U.S. sues ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions in new crackdown over immigration enforcement

File photo of the White House.

WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr announced Monday that the Justice Department would sue two “sanctuary” jurisdictions – including the state of New Jersey – over policies he considers overly friendly to those in the country unlawfully, as part of a renewed effort to get cities and states on board with the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

In separate complaints filed in federal court, the Justice Department sought to block a New Jersey policy that limits how state and local authorities can share information with federal immigration officials and to stop a King County, Washington, directive that prevents immigration authorities from using an international airport there for deportations. King County includes the city of Seattle.

Barr announced the lawsuits in a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association, saying they were part of “a significant escalation in the federal government’s efforts to confront the resistance of ‘sanctuary cities.’ ” He said he also was reviewing the practice of some state and local prosecutors who charge criminals with lesser offenses to avoid deportation, and giving non-sanctuary jurisdictions priority when it comes to awarding certain grant money.

“In addition to not being lawful, these policies make no sense,” Barr said. “Innocent people are routinely threatened and hurt by illegal aliens who local jurisdictions have set free.”

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement: “Once again, the Trump Administration is sacrificing public safety for political expedience. It’s no surprise that the President, facing re-election, has suddenly decided to challenge a policy we first announced in 2018. What’s disappointing is that my former colleagues at the Justice Department have agreed to go along with this election year stunt.”

King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement: “It is no surprise that Trump and Barr are bullying King County for being a welcoming community that respects the rights of all people. Our ordinances rightly require that King County facilitate immigration enforcement directives only when accompanied by a valid court order. . . . We look forward to our day in court.”

Even before Barr was attorney general, the Trump administration had taken an aggressive posture toward places that limit their cooperation with immigration enforcement – threatening to withhold grant money and suing over laws it felt encroached on the federal government’s authority. The administration recently revealed that it expects to kick “roughly 175,000 New Yorkers” out of Global Entry and other Trusted Traveler Programs by the end of this year and bar others from joining, in retaliation for that state limiting immigration agents’ access to the state’s driver license data.

But much of the effort has been stymied in court.

Determining a link between illegal immigration and other crimes has proven difficult statistically, though some research shows that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than those who are native born. Trump and Barr have cited a number of high-profile examples of those in the country illegally committing crimes to support their case, and Barr accused them Monday of breaking the law.

“Enforcing the country’s immigration laws is an essential function of the national government, and no national government can enforce those laws properly if state and local governments are getting in the way,” Barr said.

The Justice Department in March 2018 alleged in a lawsuit that California had violated the Constitution with what it would deem “sanctuary” laws friendly to undocumented immigrants.

The suit took aim at three California laws: Assembly Bill 450, which prohibits private employers from giving immigration officials access to workplaces or documents for enforcement without a court order; Assembly Bill 103, which created a state inspection system for immigration detention facilities; and Senate Bill 54, which limits what state and local law enforcement authorities can communicate about some suspects and which people they can transfer to federal custody.

A federal judge in July 2018 largely rejected the government’s bid to block the laws, writing that most were “permissible exercises of California’s sovereign power.”

The judge said California was within its rights to allow state authorities to inspect immigrant detention facilities, and to bar state law enforcement agencies from providing release dates or other personal information to federal immigration authorities. He did, however, block portions of one law that imposed heavy fines on businesses that gave immigration authorities access to their facilities and records without a court order.

An appeals court largely affirmed that decision in April, and the administration is now attempting to convince the Supreme Court to hear the matter.

The Justice Department also has threatened to withhold certain grant money from sanctuary cities, though that effort, too, has largely been held up in court, and almost all cities are continuing to get their grants.

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